What is E-Waste?
We are living in a commodity crunch era. Our rate of consumption of natural resources has increased over the last decade and will continue to rise in the future. It is estimated that the world population will be approximately 9 Billion by 2050.
Electronics industry is the world’s largest and fastest growing industry. The last decade has seen a tremendous growth in the manufacturing and consumption of electronics and electrical all over the world. As a consequence of this growth, combined with rapid product obsolescence and lower costs, discarded electronic and electrical equipment or ‘e-waste’ is now the most rapidly growing waste problem in the world.
Simply put, Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) or e-waste is end-of-life electronic and electrical gadgets, in simpler words, broken, surplus or obsolete gadgets run by electricity.
E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. In developed countries, it equals 1% of total solid waste on an average. The increasing “market penetration” in developing countries, “replacement market” in developed countries and “high obsolescence rate” make WEEE/E-waste one of the fastest waste streams. There is a pressing need to address e-waste management particularly in developing countries. The presence of valuable recyclable components attracts informal and unorganised sector. The unsafe and environmentally risky practice adopted by them poses great risks to health and environment.
E-waste is not just a problem of waste quantity or volumes. The concern is compounded because of the presence of toxic materials like lead, mercury, cadmium, certain BFRs (brominated flame retardants) and many other chemicals. In developing country like India, most E-waste lands up in the informal sector where it is recycled without any consideration to health and environment. Open burning, acid baths, unventilated work spaces and crude handling of chemicals are typical of these operations, where susceptible groups like children and women are regularly employed. With no safety equipment at hand, the workers in some of the recycling hotspots spread all over the country, are exposed to the toxic cocktails daily. The unregulated practices also release hazardous materials in air, water and soil, thereby endangering our environment.
Every year, mining produces approximately 300 times more waste than electronics do. E-waste is often richer in rare metals than virgin materials, containing 10 to 50 times higher copper content than copper ore. A cell phone contains five to ten times higher gold content than gold ore. The lost opportunity cost to re-source precious metals and plastics within the technology supply chain is costing us billions.
According to market information, roughly 10 ounces of gold can be extracted from every ton of printed circuit boards, and you’d need to process 100 tons of gold ore or more to get the same amount. For every ounce of gold that has to be mined in the field, we produce 30 tons of waste including mercury and cyanide. Compare that with recovering an ounce of gold from electronic waste - you’d eliminate that gigantic ecological burden.